Interview: Margaret Stolte
by Ali Lange
In 1992, poet and activist Zoe Leonard wrote the controversial poetic essay “I want a president” in support of third party presidential candidate, Eileen Myles. Leonard promoted the idea of democratically elected government as a true reflection of its constituents, as opposed to the traditionally elite, mostly white, mostly rich, mostly male political climate. Throughout the poem, Leonard asserted specific marginalized groups as preferable choices for President of the United States, stating, “I want a dyke for president,” “I want a person with aids for president,” “I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen,” and so on. Leonard’s work, originally intended for print in a queer publication but never actually published in the magazine, resurfaced in the public discourse during the 2016 presidential election. Plastered across the High Line in New York City in October 2016, “I want a president” echoed many Americans’ discontent and disgust towards the state of U.S. politics in entrance to the era of fake news and Twitter tirades. Leonard’s decades-old message still holds true to many today, as we face the reality of hyper-polarization in our political and, subsequently, sociocultural realms. It is often in these moments of uncertainty that we turn to the artist, a voice for our cultural reality, to manifest our public consciousness through creative works and expression.
“May Your Tampons Fly as High as Your Dreams”
During the spring of 2018, artist and writer Margaret Stolte launched This Bitch for President, an evolving collection of mixed media pieces displayed via an Instagram page with the same name. The page is dedicated to bold and humorous declarations of female friendship and love. The illustrations and collages aim to project a sense of wild abandonment — anything that disrupts societal expectations for women to be calm, regulated, and moderate in both the public and private spheres. Stolte is paving the way for the time when, finally, a bitch can be president. I spoke to Stolte via email to hear her thoughts on the progression of her project and her views regarding women in art, politics, and society.
What were the early influences in your life that led you to start crafting This Bitch for President?
I grew up in a small town in the midwest where there wasn’t a ton of action. When I was 15, I had so much creative energy and didn’t really know what to do with it, so I was drawing on anything and everything, and writing a lot of weird-ass feminist poems that I would keep in a box in my room. I felt angry and confused about the sexist politics in place in my small town and in the world. Everything changed when I started a band with two of my female friends and one very subdued male bassist. When I was on stage with them, I felt invincible, I felt loud, and it felt like all of my weirdness and anger that had been building up was an asset that made me a better performer and artist. When I got to the microphone I gave myself permission to be in charge, to be funny, and to be powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Over the past year (or many years now, really), I’ve felt shocked and devastated by the world, as if I have no control over what is going on. It’s similar to the feelings I had when I was 15 and holding a lot of creative energy with nowhere to channel it. It made sense, to me at least, to respond once again with art or jokes or satire or literally just anything to make people (and myself) feel supported and seen even though the world is a huge open wound with a gross staph infection on the top.
“That’s Not the Point”
A lot of the tone for This Bitch for President is based on a theory I have about radical friendship which started when I was in high school. I love my friends and support them in a pretty intense, almost violent (but not actually) way, and I feel protective of them and supportive of them. I also like making them laugh. Much of this project is a love letter to all the amazing, inspiring humans I am lucky enough to know who make the world a better place every day.
I know you’ve written for websites like Her Campus and worked with Man Repeller. How did those experiences shape your other creative endeavors?
Working at Man Repeller was transformative because it was the first time I was paid to be funny. This had never happened to me before. I did not grow up knowing it was possible to be paid to write funny things, or to even get paid for being creative. No one had ever reached out to me with a job prospect based on the jokes I was making on Instagram or a funny tweet before that point, especially not my favorite website that I read every day. I’m not sure if I would have moved to New York without that opportunity. Working at Man Repeller also made me realize how many women are interested in finding community with other strong, interesting, weird, intellectual, funny women via the internet. Most internet comment sections are where humanity goes to die; the MR comment section is where ideas and compassion and intelligent women come to rev it up and high five each other 1 million trillion times.
“Ways to Describe a Friend That Aren’t Just Selfless”
You mentioned that you admire artist Mari Andrew’s style. How has her work influenced your own, and what sets you apart from other artists who focus on illustrations and humor in a similar fashion?
I can remember the first time a friend tagged me in one of Mari’s posts. I felt like my brain was on fire! The way she was combining humor, poetry, prose, and illustration with empathy and connection was so exciting to me. I really think Mari is breaking down a lot of walls in terms of sticking to one specific medium, as opposed to just creating one specific ethos, which is something I really admire. I think her work, and work similar to hers, encourages us to embrace the many complexities about ourselves. I’ve been called a bitch and other vulgar phrases many times in life and have called myself one as well. I have no problem making a scene and being loud, but I also love babies and working with kids and the way sunlight hits buildings in Brooklyn on nice days. I really just want anyone else who feels this way to know it’s okay to be a soft, vulnerable person and also hate racist, sexist assholes and be loud about it, to want to see someone like yourself or any other marginalized group be in charge for once, and to be brave. You can be both things and we should celebrate that more.
For now, I’m really interested in just creating one specific, consistent feeling– I want people to feel like they are hearing from someone they know and like. I’m just making things that feel like myself, or maybe the most explosive version of myself, and putting them on the internet. The more people that can relate to it the better! Particularly politically active bitches but anyone’s welcome.
“From Me + You to Them”
I love the name This Bitch for President and the way it reflects the inherently political nature of your project.
I’m actually not sure if the project is inherently political all of the time. To me, it’s more like reimagining politics, or what is personal of our politics. So much of me embracing myself and adulthood was finding the words to talk about the constant barrage of social injustices all around us and at the same time learning to lean on those around me. Politics should, in my opinion, make space for feelings, empathy, and standing together. So much of politics sucks because we can’t see ourselves in the people representing us, especially for women, people of color, and folks in the LGBTQ+ community. What could make you feel more empowered about politics than imagining your best friend, a badass feminist intersectional bitch, being president?
How have your own challenges in combating patriarchy and injustice shaped your voice in this project?
Pretty much all of the work in this project starts from a personal anecdote and spirals into whatever the creative process does with it from there. The written work especially derives from fragments of real conversations, situations, or jokes I said at a mic or a text I sent or received. I think young women are told all too often that they need to sound “smarter,” more assertive, less assertive, more feminine, less feminine, less colloquial, use less vocal fry, and just less in general. This project has been really freeing for me because I don’t really actually edit anything too much at all. Sometimes the posts are funny and sometimes they’re about sexual assault. It’s important to me to reflect the way my friends and I actually speak to each other and support each other on a daily basis, and to reflect the multifaceted nature of our lives.
Do you see This Bitch for President as an Instagram project only, or do you see future opportunities for growth and potential publication of your work?
This project changes every day. You can do a 30-second scroll through the page and figure that out. I do not see This Bitch for President as a project for Instagram only, though I certainly do see Instagram as a great place for it to live right now. I am always seeking expansion or advancements. I think it’d be fun to do illustrations for other people’s projects who have a similar vibe. Please all agents and publishers approach me immediately.
“So I Won’t”
A short term goal is to start selling prints and maybe get some physical interest in the project locally in New York. Long term goals are to self-publish or otherwise publish a book for people to give to their friends. I definitely think the project could shift and become even more politically engaged, especially with the midterms and the 2020 presidential election on the horizon. I obviously am partial and would really like to see a bitch become president. For now, my favorite part of this whole project is when people tag their friends and say something super crazy in all caps.
Lastly, I just wanted to connect your project with our mission at The Los Angeles Press. With the tagline “Against Erasure,” we aim to publish voices that have historically been erased, ignored, and silenced — women, POC, the disabled, and LGBTQ+ artists. Like you, we seek to give a voice to those communities through the act of publishing.
I love that tagline! I love this mission! I think This Bitch for President speaks to those values precisely and is about reimagining establishment politics and raising each other up. When you are a woman-identifying person, just walking outside means potentially being attacked. Everything about you is censured and measured and analyzed, especially the things you say. Everything happening in the world is extraordinarily frightening but there are also a lot of inspiring people working toward a more equitable world and raising awareness. Women, and other marginalized folk are making documentaries, organizing in their communities, running for office, and calling out injustice when they see it. This project is also about reclaiming words, phrases, and attitudes: It’s taking a sort of trope like “________ for president,” and also reimagining what the term “bitch” might mean. The cultural memory of that word and words like it (nasty woman, for example) are used to erase women, to erase people of color, and to erase people in the LGBTQ+ communities. But it’s not only about wanting a bitch to be president of the United States, but also just in general. President of this bar. President of this comedy club. This bitch for president of the MTA, ya know?
Ali Lange is a New Orleans native who celebrates the city’s unique ability to combine art, history, music, literature, decadence, fashion, and food and seeks to achieve the same effect through writing. A recent graduate from Tulane University in May 2018, Ali will continue her education at Tulane to earn her Master’s Degree in English in 2019. With a focus on women in literature, history, and popular culture, Ali has been published by Her Campus, a web-based platform for collegiate women, since 2016.